Ilankai Tamil Sangam

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Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA

Letter to Asst Sec Blake on His Upcoming Visit to Sri Lanka

by Amnesty International USA, December 3, 2009

Humanitarian and human rights organizations should be given unimpeded access to displaced people. For those attempting to resettle, such organizations should be permitted to monitor their safety and wellbeing and ensure their needs are being met, including that they are protected against further human rights violations.

Several weeks ago, Amnesty has also received reports that many IDPs were merely transferred to other camps in the area where they may be subjected to rescreening by local authorities...

Amnesty International has received repeated, credible reports from humanitarian workers about the lack of transparency and accountability in the screening process, which is conducted outside of any legal framework. There are also increased dangers to detainees when they are held incommunicado.

Ambassador Robert Blake
Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs
Harry S. Truman Building
2201 C Street, NW
Washington, DC 20520

Dear Ambassador Blake,

In advance of your upcoming trip to Sri Lanka, I would like to reiterate Amnesty International’s concerns regarding the treatment of ethnic Tamil civilians who have been confined in military-run camps since the end of the conflict between government forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). Although the release of civilians has accelerated over the last weeks, many concerns remain.

I urge you to raise the following with Sri Lankan authorities:

Concerns regarding recent releases

According to the Sri Lankan government, families living in displacement camps in Vavuniya will be given a choice: remain in camps, seek alternative accommodations or attempt to return home. However, Amnesty International has received information about possible restrictions on families choosing to leave the camps. Media reports have suggested that they could be asked to return to the camps after only 15 days. A permanent release from camps must be accompanied by assurances that people are not subjected to further questioning or re-arrest in new locations. It is also critical that the government maintain its responsibility to care for displaced people wherever they choose to go.

Another concern is the lack of assistance for those who have already been released. A church group has reported instances of civilians being simply ‘dumped, left on the road’ after being transported from Manik Farm. The government is providing conflicting messages about the process of return. It is also unclear whether freedom of movement will apply to camps in other parts of the country as well.

As releases and resettlement efforts accelerate, Sri Lankan authorities should allow displaced people to make informed and voluntary decisions about return and resettlement. The Sri Lankan authorities must alert displaced people to the living conditions in the places they come from so that they can make plans about their future. They should also provide them with clear information about their rights, their legal status and procedures for tracing family members.

Humanitarian and human rights organizations should be given unimpeded access to displaced people. For those attempting to resettle, such organizations should be permitted to monitor their safety and wellbeing and ensure their needs are being met, including that they are protected against further human rights violations.

Several weeks ago, Amnesty has also received reports that many IDPs were merely transferred to other camps in the area where they may be subjected to rescreening by local authorities.

Detention of suspected LTTE supporters

An estimated 12,000 people (including children) suspected of links to the LTTE have been arrested, separated from the general displaced population and detained by the authorities in irregular detention facilities, such as vacated school buildings. Amnesty International has received repeated, credible reports from humanitarian workers about the lack of transparency and accountability in the screening process, which is conducted outside of any legal framework. There are also increased dangers to detainees when they are held incommunicado. While screening is appropriate to ensure that LTTE combatants are not housed with the general camp population, proper procedures should be followed and the screening process must not be used as an excuse for collective punishment. Independent monitors (including the ICRC) continue to be denied access to sites housing adult LTTE suspects. Detainees have not been charged with any offence, and have been denied legal counsel and due process. Many are held incommunicado.

I urge you to call on the Sri Lankan government to permanently release civilians who have been illegally detained in camps since the end of the civil war six months ago. The authorities must make good on their declared intentions to free some 120,000 people and must do so unconditionally. Further, I urge you to ask the Sri Lankan government to give unimpeded access to the areas of displacement to humanitarian and human rights organization.

Thank you in advance for giving these concerns your urgent attention.

Sincerely,

Mr. Larry Cox, Executive Director

Amnesty International USA

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AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL USA
PRESS RELEASE
Tuesday, December 1, 2009

 

Amnesty International Calls on Sri Lankan Government to Permanently Release All Civilians

Authorities Must Protect Displaced Families and Provide Information for Informed and Voluntary Resettling Decisions

 

(Washington) - Amnesty International is calling on the Sri Lankan government to permanently release civilians who have been illegally detained in camps since the end of the civil war six months ago.

"The authorities must make good on their declared intentions to free some 120,000 people and must do so unconditionally," said Yolanda Foster, Amnesty International's expert on Sri Lanka.

According to the Sri Lankan government today, families living in displacement camps in Vavuniya will be given a choice: remain in camps, seek alternative accommodations or attempt to return home.

However, Amnesty International has received information about possible restrictions on families choosing to leave the camps. Media reports have suggested that they could be asked to return to the camps after only 15 days.

A permanent release from camps must be accompanied by assurances that people are not subjected to further questioning or re-arrest in new locations," said Foster. "It is also critical that the government maintain its responsibility to care for displaced people wherever they choose to go."

Another concern is the lack of assistance for those who have already been released. A church group has reported instances of civilians being simply ‘dumped, left on the road’ after being bussed from Manik Farm.

The government is providing conflicting messages about the process of return. It is also unclear whether freedom of movement will apply to camps in other parts of the country as well.

As releases and resettlement efforts accelerate, Amnesty International urges Sri Lankan authorities to allow displaced people to make informed and voluntary decisions about return and resettlement.

"The Sri Lankan authorities must alert displaced people to the living conditions in the places they come from so that they can make plans about their future," said Foster. "They should also provide them with clear information about their rights, their legal status and procedures for tracing family members."

"Humanitarian and human rights organizations should be given unimpeded access to displaced people. For those attempting to resettle, such organizations should be permitted to monitor their safety and wellbeing and ensure their needs are being met, including that they are protected against further human rights violations."

"Thousands of people have started to leave camps in the north east but the promise to unlock the camps must be followed up by the protection of the rights of the internally displaced people both within and outside the camps."

Background:

After fierce fighting and thousands of civilian casualties in May 2009, the Sri Lankan government declared victory over the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). By the end of May, 300,000 displaced people who had fled the fighting were detained in camps supervised by the military.

In response to the unlawful detention of hundreds of thousands of displaced people, Amnesty International launched a global campaign "Unlock the Camps," calling for liberty and freedom of movement for the displaced. Over 40,000 activists have taken action.

Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with more than 2.2 million supporters, activists and volunteers in more than 150 countries campaigning for human rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public, and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied.

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Contact: AIUSA media office, 202-544-0200 x8634 media@aiusa.org

For more information, please visit: www.amnestyusa.org